Power Meter Ban at Tour de France?


#1

What are your thoughts on the subject? Would it make the race more interesting?

Yesterday ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation) announced their 2019 route for the Tour de France, as they usually do this time of year. The route and the various aspects of it is fully covered here by Cycling Tips. Instead, I want to focus on a tidbit left by the Tour de France Race Director Christian Prudhomme, who stated in both his closing remarks as well as to reporters (via CyclingNews.com) the following comments:

“Power meters are very useful in training but when riders use them in a race it means they know exactly what kind of efforts they need to make – for how long and at this or that level. But if a rider wasn’t sure that he still had enough strength, that would change things.”

“Getting rid of earpieces wouldn’t change much. Not having earpieces could be useful to avoid having crashes, that’s sure, but the battle today is focused far more on power meters than on earpieces.”

“We reassert our desire to see the end of power meters in races, which annihilate the glorious uncertainty of sport.”

Frankly, this line of reasoning is bizarre.

But not for the reasons you might think.

First off, most pros in the Tour de France (TdF) aren’t actually using power meters to pace their efforts in the various stages, especially catching up to other groups like implied in many cases. That decision is made entirely based on larger aspects in the race at that point in time. The only exception to this is time trial stages, of which only number 1-2 stages per race in a grand tour like the Tour de France. The fact that Mr. Prudhomme believes pros are using them mid-race to decide whether to bridge a gap calls into question his understanding of how pro cyclists compete in the very event he’s putting on. Riders are using time-gaps from motos and race radio to determine their next moves, not power meters.

Most of the power meter usage in a grand tour like the TdF is actually more about collecting data to use for historical trending and to then understand what a given athlete is capable of doing, either in individual or group efforts. Every team in the UCI WorldTour is riding with power meters (here’s my guide for this year), and virtually every rider in the Tour de France is as well. Additionally, organizations like Velon utilize the data to show spectators in real-time (which the UCI and the TdF have previously argued increases fan engagement).

Secondly, if UCI (or the Tour de France) were actually serious about anti-doping and anti-cheating efforts, there’s arguably no better thing to do than requiring athletes to utilize and then publish power meter data (to a confidential platform is fine). Power meter data along with a racers weight has long been used to validate whether a given effort is considered viable without doping (drugs) or cheating (motors). So the removal of such devices really serves no realistic goal except to help cover things up even more.

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But what about Mr. Prudhomme’s point that power meters “annihilate the glorious uncertainty of sport”?

C’mon now – anyone who’s been involved in major stage races (or any pro race) knows that the single biggest thing they could do to instigate more excitement would be to take away race radios. For those not familiar, race radios are small wireless radios worn by the riders that allow them to communicate with their team.

Typically, that’s to the team support vehicles (usually two in the race caravan, plus others like those in feed zones). In addition, it’s also to race officials. The main ‘Race Radio’ is where the race organizers and officials give status updates and request for service/assistance. This can include safety related warnings as well. Generally speaking, a support team will listen on both the race radio channel as well as their own ‘private’ channel (it’s not technically private, but more like dedicated).

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If the goal is to increase excitement, simply disband the team-specific radio communications. Leave only the official race radio channel for updates relating to safety (and perhaps service requests). Boom, problem solved. Now it’s up to the racers to actually race, rather than just follow a constant stream of guidance from the team vehicles. Even the Tour de France’s own technical director admits as such. Thierry Gouvenou, remarked at that event when asked about the change:

“I’m realizing more and more that people want a less controlled, less predictable style of racing. The public wants a kind of cycling where the riders are the main actors, not the directeurs sportifs or the equipment”

“Everybody needs to realize that it could be good for cycling in general. We could try some stages with power meters or without earpieces – why not? – to give value to the riders once again, to reward tactical invention”

To see just how critical race radios are in a race from a team management, watch this video I put together back in January at the Tour Down Under (longer post here) – when FDJ’s race radio starts to go on the fritz, hosing up their strategy:

So no, removing power meters won’t make the Tour de France more exciting. But removing non-essential race radio communication certainly will.


#2

I agree with DC Rainmaker’s opinion that banning power meters is silly. In addition, Christian Prudhomme is a journalist not a cyclist (let alone a pro cyclist in the World Tour), so his observations are from the sidelines. It doesn’t matter that he is the Director of the Tour. Taking away power meters make no sense because if you listen to Lance Armstrong or Tom Danielson comment on the Tour, there is no way these guys are doing a measured effort in each km of the race. It’s not like that.

Here is an example. During the racing season I consistently train “attacks”, “plays” and “moves” lasting 1, 3, 5 minutes and I train these over and over and over. I learn them so well, that I am able to replicate them without looking at my power meter, just by how they feel. Last June in one of the road races I did (in the Intelligentsia Cup) I did a 3 min effort into a solo breakaway and dropped the group of 5 with 2 km to go. Did I look at my power meter for that? No. It was all about timing and reading the riders around me, and it was right after a climb. I did however know I could do a big effort by mixing standing, seated, etc. and it turns out the move looked a lot like the intervals I practiced, not surprisingly. These guys study each inch of the course and know their efforts.

Maybe there is no “excitement” because over the years the teams and riders got smarter and better and know exactly how to approach each stage. Training got better with power meters- want to ban that from training too?

The Tour has been around forever after all! I see this as a decline in popularity of he Tour because yeah, it is predictable, and these guys are trying desperately to save it.

Lastly, the UCI from what I hear lives in the stone age. And the Tour is filled with politics.


#3

Not to pile on, but I have to agree with DCR and Theia. Power meters don’t really have that much influence on a race when it comes down to the heat of battle. Yes, some riders may limit their efforts at times because of power numbers, but they risk letting the race get away from them. The removal of race radios, on the other hand, could really liven things up a bit.

As for the race having lost popularity or excitement, Prudhomme needs to look no further than his own organization and how it has handled doping allegations over the past two decades. ASO has done itself no favors. Besides, this kind of racing is no different than during the Indurain and Armstrong years. Both of their teams controlled and dominated the race just like Team Sky does now. Heck, Hinault’s team did it in the 1980s, too.

I really think that the pro peloton needs reform if you want a more exciting race, but that is a much longer post.


#4

In this podcast, Lance Armstrong and guests provide an interesting analysis about the recently announced 2019 Tour course and opinions on the banning of power meters.

https://wedu.team/themove/2019-tour-de-france-route-preview